Shock, pain, havoc. Five days of waiting for the worst. A catastrophic plane crash subsequently rocked the core of the United States. July 16, 2019 marks the 20th anniversary since the tragic death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr, his wife Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy and her sister Lauren Bessette in 1999.
Kennedy, who was born November 25, 1960, famously attended the funeral of his assassinated father on his third birthday. With a photograph taken by the The New York Times saluting his father’s coffin, Kennedy instantly became the eye of the nation through this heartbreaking but powerful image. At this point in his life, Kennedy had no idea how precious he was to an entire country that adored him.
This man lived his life followed by paparazzi that his wife was wary of. In fact, he made his very first newspaper appearance in the NYT when he was one day old. His life was truly under watchful eyes from the beginning. Although the “crown prince” has been gone for 20 years now, his legacy as the son of America’s most beloved family continues to live on.
And with November we just had the 55th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it’s important to remind
The Early Days
Raised in Manhattan with his sister Caroline, Kennedy heartily spent his days with his mother. He graduated from Brown University, had a short affair with acting, then landed at New York University Law School.
“In some respects, I found the most remarkable thing about John was how relatively normal he was despite the fame,” said Richard Wiese, Kennedy’s former fraternity brother at Brown, to ABC.
After a short but successful career as an assistant district attorney, according to History, he founded political magazine George in 1995. It amassed a following of almost a half million people. But the venture ultimately suffered later, according to People magazine.
What made Kennedy different, and arguably more likable by the nation, was the fact that he never took public office. All in all, he was just a wholesome American guy that the whole country seemed to connect to on both sympathetic and empathetic levels.
When Kennedy was assistant district attorney, he was well publicized riding his bike to and from his office that he shared with colleagues.
Michael Gross, a former contributor at George, told ABC that for Kennedy, this job “provided access to real life.”
In 1988, Kennedy was named the “Sexiest Man Alive” by People. The issue has remained one of the magazine’s most popular bestsellers, according to former managing editor Larry Hackett.
“Myself included…friends gave him total crap [about it],” joked Wiese, to ABC.
An incredibly humble man, Kennedy was known for dating countless beautiful celebrities: actress Daryl Hannah for five years, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cindy Crawford, Madonna and more. While he dated quite a few enthralling women, ABC reported that not one ever had anything bad to say about him. Kennedy was just a really good guy.
And then came a passionate, felicitous love–found at a Calvin Klein store in 1992. It was a relationship that everyone became infatuated with.
Carolyn Bessette and Kennedy knew each other for two years before they were married in a secret ceremony in 1996.
“He was very, very much in love with this beautiful girl…who was unknown to the rest of the world,” said Paul Wilmot, a former executive at Calvin Klein, to ABC.
A couple that spent the entirety of their relationship under a magnifying glass, the pair dated briefly in 1993, only to reunite after the passing of Jackie Kennedy Onassis due to non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1994. After her passing, Kennedy did his best to go back to blazing his own personal trail through life. A man with a knack for his adventurous streak, Kennedy was known as a “man in motion,” said Christopher Andersen, author of “The Day John Died.”
Kennedy told Andersen that he continued to stay active because if he didn’t, he would stop and think about everything that’s ever happened to him, then just sit down and fall apart.
1999 is when George took a deep financial hit. It was a struggle to keep the magazine afloat and his marriage together. Known by his friends as “the Master of Disaster,” Kennedy was known for releasing stress through outdoor hobbies that could be easily deemed as dangerous, such as flying.
“Here was a guy who would get in his kayak and play chicken with the Staten Island Ferry,” said Andersen to ABC. “He would, you know, swim toward the horizon and vanish, and his friends would just get ready to call 911 and suddenly, he appeared out of nowhere. Somehow he always managed to show up, safe and sound.”
But on that fateful July day, Kennedy was woefully absent. Something wasn’t right.
July 16, 1999: a day where the subsequent reverberations were felt around the nation. Kennedy and the Bessette women die in a single-engine plane that Kennedy was controlling in hazy conditions. The plane went right into the Atlantic Ocean near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. A huge search effort was orchestrated but it was disbanded to no avail. Finally, their bodies were found in the broken plane on July 21 by U.S. Navy divers. As for the plane, it was found 116 feet deep into the ocean.
“It was earth-shattering,” said Kennedy’s personal assistant and ABC News consultant RoseMarie Terenzio. “It was unbelievable. It was as [if] the earth had cracked in half somehow. And I could not understand how this happened. To him of all people.”
Flying was part of Kennedy’s being–even though his late mother was not a fan. Long story short, more than one Kennedy family member had trouble with flying (aunts, uncles and other family members) and Kennedy had to hide his flying lessons from his mother. Once Onassis passed away her son took up lessons again, according to biographer Tina Flaherty.
Flying held a massive role in the marriage of Bessette and Kennedy, which Bessette wasn’t immediately excited about, according to Kennedy biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli. It was ultimately that very thing that would bind them together forever.
When they were supposed to reach Martha’s Vineyard, Kennedy was to drop off his sister-in-law. Then, Kennedy and Bessette were to attend the wedding of Rory Kennedy at Cape Cod’s Hyannis Port, according to History. The plane never made it. Instead, it plunged into the sea, about eight miles from the Vineyard shore. There was no mechanical problems found in investigations of the accident; it all came down to the unideal weather conditions that have been assumed to confuse Kennedy, ultimately leading to the crash.
Terenzio remembered the devastating phone call from Bobby Kennedy, a Kennedy cousin.
“He said, ‘RoseMarie, John’s not coming back’. And I think it just sort of hit me…then that, this was it.”
While he’s no longer with us, that doesn’t mean that Kennedy’s memory can’t continue to be celebrated. In the spirit of America’s most admired family, the nation will face adversities and continue to move on.